Counterpoint: tap meets piano magic from Caleb Teicher and Conrad Tao

Livestream, 92nd St Y, New York City
March 3, 2022

Many companies and theatres have quickly abandoned streaming performances as the world slowly works its way out of the pandemic. Not all, though, and there are still some gems to be seen online including, from New York City, the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center’s 2021-22 Mainstage Series.

The 92nd St Y’s latest presentation proved a real delight. Choreographer-dancer Caleb Teicher and composer-pianist Conrad Tao come from two art forms, each with their own traditions and practices. But there are connections. Their tap meets piano collaborative duet, Counterpoint is an exploration of that connectivity, counterpoint and the different ways the percussion of piano and tap relate to one another; and when presented like this, they nestle together very comfortably indeed.

Caleb Teicher (right) and Conrad Tao in Counterpoint
Photo Richard Termine/92nd St Y

Teicher’s happy casual dress of dungarees over a white t-shirt sets the tone. The overall feeling is of a sort of private artistic conversation that we are lucky enough to eavesdrop on. Even online, you can see and feel the pleasure in their performing together. They look like the long-time friends that they are. It’s also a show that doesn’t insist on a lot from the viewer. There is depth, and there is lots to get the thought juices and imagination going, but if you would rather just sit back, relax and enjoy, you can.

In interviews, Teicher has revealed that Counterpoint allows for a certain amount of improvisation and spontaneous creativity. But so neatly does the tap and piano combine that you feel some sort of sixth sense must be at play, Tao and Teicher somehow knowing what the other wants, needs and is going to do, and being able to respond accordingly.

The show opens and closes with Tao softly playing the soulful aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. At first, Teicher just sits, then stands, as if in thought or perhaps tuning into what is coming from the piano. As the dance starts, Teicher’s shoes drag and feet scrape as they create long sounds as equally soft as those from the piano. There are spins, but always graceful, and often seemingly in slow-motion with a sense of suspension. It’s beautiful, calming and feels very respectful. A similar approach is taken later with a gentle Brahms intermezzo.

Caleb Teicher (right) and Conrad Tao in Counterpoint
Photo Richard Termine/92nd St Y

In the Bach, Teicher’s tap owes a lot to soft shoe but, elsewhere, rhythms are bashed out in a manner more like most would expect. This includes in the couple’s teaming up in an exuberant interpretation of Art Tatum’s ‘Cherokee’, which features some fast time step combinations from Teicher. The duo also performed an excerpt from their Bessie award-winning show More Forever, which features Teicher’s own choreography, albeit in a version not seen in the show.

There’s a little easy-going chat along the way as both performers also get their own solo moments: Tao on a finely detailed playing of Schoenberg’s Waltz from his Five Piano Pieces, and the second movement Minuet from Ravel’s Sonatine; and Teicher in the ‘Cole and Bufalino Soft Shoe’, and one of the highlights of the show, the well-known final movement (‘Turkish Rondo’) of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.11. So accurate was Teicher, adding some body percussion and a few vocalisations to the tap, all perfectly in tune with the composer’s score, that you could hear the music in your head, even though there was actually no accompaniment.

I suspect that most people’s favourite segment would be Rhapsody in Blue, however. Both Tao and Teicher give the Gershwin classic the virtuosic treatment. The pair intertwine beautifully, their phrasing coming together as one in what is admittedly a very happy coming together of jazz and Broadway, both building to an impressive finale. I’m not sure that I learned anything new, though, which I most certainly did with the unexpected delights elsewhere, notably the Bach.

And it’s back to the Goldberg Variations, and where Tao and Teicher came in, as Counterpoint slowly winds down. Piano and tap, classical and jazz. Magic.

There’s more dance coming online from the 92nd St Y. Visit for the schedule and details.

A particular highlight comes on April 6, 2022, with a livestream of Paul Taylor Dance Company in Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, to mark the 90th anniversary of the most anti-war of all ballets. The performance (available for 72 hours after the livestream) will be followed by a conversation moderated by David Rubenstein with policy experts Dr. Stephen Biddle and Janine di Giovanni.